While Preston Wilson only appeared in eight big league games for the New York Mets, he’s a huge part of franchise history. The former first round pick (9th overall in the 1992 draft) was used as part of the package of prospects that would net the Amazins catcher Mike Piazza in 1998. A native of Bamberg, South Carolina and the stepson of former Met great, Mookie Wilson, Preston was drafted straight out of Bamberg Ehrhardt High School. He was fresh off being named the High School player of the year by Baseball America, and wouldn’t begin his professional career until reporting to Kingsport to start the 1993 season in Rookie Ball.
Before even stepping on the field, Baseball America proclaimed Wilson the 93rd best prospect in all of baseball. He would show flashes of what he could do with his ability, but his uber-aggressiveness at the plate led to more strikeouts than anyone would have liked. In 259 at-bats (66 games played) in the Appalachian League, Preston hit .232/.302/.456 with 16 home runs, 10 doubles, 48 RBIs, and 75 strikeouts. He earned a late-season call-up to Pittsfield and tore up opposing pitching in limited time (.552/.576/.897 in 29 ABs).
After being named the 43rd best prospect in all of the game, Wilson reported to Capital City in the Sally League, and struggled in his first full season of professional ball. In 131 games played, he accumulated 474 at-bats, hitting .228/.262/.369 with 14 home runs, 58 RBIs, 135 strikeouts, and only 20 walks. His stock took a hit in the Baseball America rankings prior to the ’95 season (#94 prospect), and the then-20-year-old Wilson would spend one more year in Capital City.
The results the second time around were much better; Wilson hit .269/.311/.486 in 442 at-bats, including 20 home runs and 61 RBIs. The high strikeout numbers (114) and low walk numbers (19) remained, but he was at least hitting at a higher clip than the year before, while also getting on base more often. Preston also reached a new career high in stolen bases with 20, adding another element to his game.
After being limited to just 23 games played in High-A St. Lucie during the ’96 season, he split his time with St. Lucie and Binghamton virtually down the middle in ’97. His performance put him on the brink of the major leagues; he put together a .266/.306/.500 line with 30 home runs, 24 doubles, and 95 RBIs.
He began the 1998 season with Triple-A Norfolk, but after just 18 games in International League play, Wilson got the call-up to the big leagues, debuting for the Mets on May 7th, 1998. In 20 at-bats with New York, he hit .300/.364/.400 before getting traded to the Florida Marlins with a few others to bring Piazza to the Big Apple.
Wilson would end up playing 10 years in the major leagues. While he was always a candidate to register over 100 strikeouts in a full season, he did establish himself as a power source in Miami. His official rookie season was in ’98, and he placed second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a .280/.350/.502 line with 26 home runs and 71 RBIs. He would hit 20+ home runs four more years in a row, and accomplished the feat six times.
His best year for individual stats came in his first season with the Colorado Rockies in 2003. He benefited greatly from the thin air at Coors Field, hitting .282/.343/.537 with 36 home runs and a league-leading 141 RBIs. His batting average, slugging percentage, home run total, and RBI total were all career-highs.
However, his best team outcome happened in 2006. He was playing for the Houston Astros, but got released in the middle of August. Six days later, the St. Louis Cardinals picked him up due to injuries in their outfield. They just so happened to squeak into the playoffs, get hot at the right time, and win the World Series. Wilson didn’t perform well against his former club in the NLCS (.176/.222/.235 in 17 ABs), but he had the pleasure of celebrating a pennant at Shea Stadium, where he thought for a while that he’d be playing his home games as a big leaguer.
Preston last saw big league time in 2007 with the Cardinals. He most recently played professional ball with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League for Gary Carter back in ’09. Wilson found success, hitting .304/.344/.474 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs in 48 games played. He didn’t return to for the 2010 season because he was trying to catch on with a team in the majors, but it never happened. He now is a part of Fox Sports Florida’s coverage of the Miami Marlins, joining Jeff Conine and Cliff Floyd.
It’s always nice to see a former first round pick end up having a nice career, even if it isn’t with the team that drafted him. While it would have been nice to have a 30-30 threat in the outfield, I’m very happy with what New York got in return.